Eta’s moisture spurs heavy rain and devastating flooding in North Carolina
In the Carolinas and Virginia, tropical moisture streaming north ahead of Eta interacted with a cold front to generate widespread high-end flash flooding, with pockets of up to 6 to 8 inches having fallen. The heaviest rain had fallen in two swaths: from north of Greenville, S.C., and west of Charlotte to near Lynchburg, Va., and from near Lumberton to Rocky Mount, N.C., with a few spots likely seeing double-digit totals.
Nearly three dozen people were rescued from floodwaters at the Hiddenite Family Campground in Mooresville, N.C., less than 30 miles northwest of Charlotte. Three people were confirmed dead. Two adults and an infant remained missing Thursday evening.
Another person was killed nearby in a vehicle when it was overcome by floodwaters.
The area was placed under a rare flash flood emergency, the National Weather Service urging residents to “move to higher ground now!” and adding “this is an extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation.”
A child also drowned while playing close to floodwaters near Raleigh, N.C., while two people died in a crash on the Wilkesboro Highway north of Charlotte. The crash was blamed on speed and wet roadways, though neither occupant of the vehicle was wearing a seatbelt.
Charlotte picked up over three inches of rain just two hours’ time Thursday morning, part of the same band of torrential downpours that triggered serious flash flooding in the Carolina Piedmont. The Queen City had seen five inches by Thursday afternoon. It was the fourth wettest calendar day ever recorded in Charlotte.
Amber Roberts, a reporter at FOX46 in Charlotte, was reporting live from Alexander County when a section of the roadway just feet away collapsed into roaring floodwaters.
In Chatham, Va., emergency management reported 20 to 30 roads closed across town. Heavy rain continued to fall Thursday morning across southern and central Virginia.
The National Weather Service highlighted a moderate risk of flash flooding from northeast South Carolina through eastern North Carolina on Thursday.
Tracking Tropical Storm Eta
At 4 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, Eta’s center was paralleling the Georgia coast about 115 miles south-southeast of Charleston, S.C.. Winds had decreased to near 40 mph, with breezy conditions and a few strong gusts expected in coastal Georgia and parts of South Carolina.
Tropical storm force winds were observed Thursday morning as Eta crossed the northern Florida peninsula. A weather station in St. Augustine, on the Atlantic side, reported sustained 38 mph winds with a gust to 44 mph around sunrise when Eta’s core blew through. The storm officially made landfall near Cedar Key, Fla., around 4:20 a.m. Thursday with 50 mph winds,
Doppler radar showed all rain had come to an end in Florida and Georgia. Meteorologists referred to the lopsided system as a “halficane,” since the majority of precipitation was east of the center and offshore. Dry air entrained into Eta’s western half eroded away the rain bands but hadn’t put a damper on gusty winds and ocean surge.
The storm dropped 2.1 inches of rain in Tampa and 7.89 inches at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
As Eta pushed ashore, it generated a storm surge of 2.8 feet in Cedar Key, Fla., overnight but had subsided to 1.8 feet Thursday morning. The roughly three-foot surge in Clearwater, Fla., on the northern reaches of Tampa Bay, had also come down to barely a foot. A 3.3-foot spike in water levels was noted at Port Manatee in Tampa Bay, while a gauge in East Bay near downtown Tampa saw a 4.2-foot spike.
Shoreside homes and even a few businesses were inundated by the surging seas, illustrating the danger a tropical storm can pose near the coast even if it’s not a hurricane.
Where Eta has company in the Atlantic
Eta will next swiftly move over the open Atlantic parallel to the Carolinas before being swallowed by an ocean storm this weekend, spelling an end to its seemingly relentless tour of damage and destruction.
Eta tied a record when it became the 28th named storm of the 2020 hurricane season, more than two and a half times the seasonal average of a dozen storms.
Eta will be remembered for its disastrous flooding, both in Central America and the United States. Feet of rain fell in the high terrain of Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala last week as the once Category 4 storm unleashed torrential moisture. After regaining energy and crossing the Caribbean, Eta brought “life-threatening flooding” to South Florida, upward of 16 inches of rain falling west of Fort Lauderdale. Streets turned into rivers in the nonstop deluge.
Tropical storm or hurricane watches or warnings have covered 99.6 percent of the Lower 48′s Atlantic coastline this season, the most expansive seasonal coverage of tropical weather alerts on record. Fewer than 100 miles of coastline in Florida’s Big Bend, coincidentally where Category 5 Michael hit in 2018, have escaped.
The tropics have yet to simmer. Tropical Storm Theta continues to swirl in the eastern Atlantic northwest of the Azores as a 65 mph storm. It could brush Portugal’s Madeira Island early next week.
Meanwhile, yet another system bore watching in the eastern Caribbean, where a tropical wave will probably develop into Tropical Storm Iota in the days ahead. The National Hurricane Center estimates a 90 percent chance of the fledgling storm becoming organized. Heavy rains were already falling in Puerto Rico and Hispaniola as the system got its act together.
Looking ahead, incipient Iota — which will mark the season’s record-shattering 30th named storm — should continue on a westward track through the Caribbean. With ample warm sea-surface temperatures and favorable wind dynamics, it could strengthen into a hurricane before it impacts Central America, including regions hard hit by Eta, early next week.
Jason Samenow contributed to this article.